Mack Latz was "a big liver" he once told me, meaning he was hightailing it out of the business to get on with life, having sold his family's crown jewel, the Knife & Fork Inn in Atlantic City, over the objections of his son Andrew Latz, who now runs Latz by the Bay in Somers Point. But Mack - who famously couldn't get along with anyone, especially his brother, causing them to work on alternating weeks - left the great Knife & Fork in good hands: the Dougherty family, which also owns Dock's Oyster House, and, more recently, Harry's Clam Bar. The Knife & Fork is still going strong, one of the city's few remaining ties to the old old days, converting the enclosed porch that once played host to a lunch scene played by Burt Lancaster and Susan Sarandon in the Louis Malle movie Atlantic City to the city's best bar for locals or anyone. The food is still incredible, the atmosphere is pure old Atlantic City charm (so much so, that the Boardwalk Empire inspired Roaring 20s outfits for waiters seemed somewhat superflouous), and the location still unmoved, despite threats, the Flemish building moored to its odd place at the intersection of Atlantic and Pacific. The Knife & Fork celebrates it 100th birthday next week. Alas, Mack Latz, 95, didn't make it, but who knows if he would have bothered to show up anyway. His parents, Milton and Evelyn Latz, had owned the Knife & Fork Inn since 1927 (it was a speakeasy before that, with lockers under the seats for your booze) and made their reputation on period dishes such as Lobster Thermidor. His grandparents were hoteliers in Atlantic City as well. Mack Lack's feud with his son Andrew, who desperately wanted to take over his family's birthright, led to the obligatory lawsuits and press releases, with Andrew publicly accusing his father of duplicity and betrayal, and Mack Latz firing back, "All I want is 6 percent of the gross. A knife and fork in the back, as we all said at the time.
Mack, who raced sailboats when he wasn't running restaurants or arguing with somebody and supposedly had a tattoo of the knife and fork crest on his hand, was a helluva guy who left his mark on a helluva restaurant and a helluva town. He told me back in 2003, in a hostility-filled story that ran, fetchingly, on Christmas Day: "I want money, baby. I have a car and a boat. I race sailboats. . . . All I've wanted is money. Boats and women - it's expensive. Nothing's enough for me. I gotta live. I'm a big liver."
And he was. RIP Mack Latz. Age 95. A Big Liver.
(Photo from 1985 by Walter O'Brien.)